Jenny pushed away from him. “You have no choice in the matter, my lord,” she snapped. “I’ve already done too much for you to refuse me now.”
“No. You and he are already acquainted. What if he—”
Jenny laughed. “He’s acquainted with Miss Jenny Clifton, a young schoolgirl whose face was hidden behind a mask. Even Lord Walcott did not recognize me, and he’s seen me on numerous occasions. What other choice do you have? Unless Mr. Thompson has agreed in the past day?” She gave him an expectant look.
Lord Dowding sighed. “No, he has not changed his mind. I nearly sent him another request but stopped myself. I just hate the thought of putting you in harm’s way, Miss Jenny. If anything were to happen to you, I wouldn’t be able to forgive myself.”
“If I hadn’t spoken in my own voice when I walked out of the shadows, would you have recognized me?”
“I… I can’t say for certain, but yes, I believe I would have.”
Jenny growled in frustration. “Well, of course. You’ve kissed me.”
He laughed. “Not as you are now, I’ve not.”
She shot him a glare. “Be that as it may, I don’t think you would have known it was I.” Hurrying up to him, she clasped her fingers at her bound bosom. “Please, my lord. I know I can convince Lord Tulk I’m who I say I am. You can do the negotiating—”
“And if he asks you a question you’re unable to answer?”
Jenny shrugged. “I’ll allow you to respond.”
The earl shook his head. “We’ll need to go over your story over the coming week. Tulk is not an easy man to fool. If he suspects anything…”
“I’m a fast learner, my lord. And I’ll find a way to get out of the few lessons I have scheduled.” She ran a hand through her short hair. “After all, I’ve made a great sacrifice to be here today.”
Lord Dowding pursed his lips in thought. “Yes well, you did do that. But the moment we see any problems, you’re to leave immediately. Is that clear?”
Jenny nodded. “I’ve one last question, if I may.”
“I was curious. Did you and Lady Ayles luncheon together recently?”
The earl frowned and shook his head. “No. Why would you…” He paused and groaned. “She called to the house begging to see me. When I asked her to leave, she became angry and threatened to speak to you about us. About our past.”
Nibbling on her lip, Jenny said, “So, I’ve no reason to be concerned about her? The old feelings you once had for her have not resurfaced?”
Lord Dowding smiled. “I have nothing but disgust for her, Miss Jenny. I assure you.”
Although Jenny smiled, doubt crept into her mind. She wanted so much to believe him, but somehow, she could not.
After changing her clothes in the privacy of an unused bedroom, and with the help of Louisa, Jenny donned her normal attire. The carpetbag, now containing the men’s clothing she had worn to Rosling Estate, was put away to be used when the time came.
A maid had brought in a pitcher of warm water, so Jenny could wash off the charcoal and paints Ruth had used on her earlier. What a relief it had been to be free of the bindings and paints! Both were constricting in their own way.
Lord Dowding had insisted on providing a carriage to return them to the school, and he accompanied them. Jenny spent the journey contemplating her confession of love and his lack of response to it. Eventually, he would admit his feelings for her, she was certain of it! After all, they had already endured too much in their short relationship to start doubting now.
Yet the question remained—what about their future? How long would it be before the earl admitted his feelings for her? And once he did so, would he then ask for her hand in marriage?
“We’ve arrived,” Lord Dowding said as the carriage turned into the drive that led to the school. “I’ll send word to Lord Tulk as soon I as return home.” He gave her a handsome smile. “Thank you again, Miss Jenny.”
Jenny thought she would melt into the bench where she sat. All the worries that had plagued her since their time in the stable dissipated. He may not have spoken the words, but she could see his feelings for her in his eyes.
As Louisa exited the carriage, Jenny leaned forward and whispered, “I’ll see you soon, my lord.”
Raising a single eyebrow, he said, “My lord? I think we’ve moved past such formalities. I’m addressing you by your Christian name. After all, we are courting.” He grinned. “Jenny.”